One started with a bang and the other, not so much.
After getting called up to “The Dance” a week ago, former Cleveland State pitcher Stephen Pryor made history by earning his first major league decision Friday night as part of a combined no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners.
Wilson Alvarez (1991), “Bobo” Holloman (1953) and “Bumpus” Jones (1892) all tossed complete-game no-hitters for their first MLB decisions, while Pryor was the third of six hurlers to take the mound for the Mariners in a 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Former Walker Valley and University of Memphis flamethrower Ryan Fraser got moved up to Class AA ball, but his first outing for the Binghamton (N.Y.) Mets didn’t go so well.
Meanwhile, former Bradley Cental and Cleveland State catcher Ryan Casteel and Ooltewah outfielder Tyler Massey are both playing well as the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists are close to wrapping up a first half divisional championship. The Colorado Rockies Class A team leads the South Atlantic League with a 42-19 record so far this season.
Another former Bear, Cole Brand, is finishing up his extended Spring Training and appears headed for a third campaign with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League team for the Class A short season in Florida.
Lee University added another former player to the professional ranks Friday as senior second baseman Blake Barber signed a free agent contract with the Miami Marlins. Five of his Flame teammates were taken by pro teams earlier this week during this year’s First-Year Player Draft.
After starting the 2012 season in Class AA picking up a win and seven saves for the Jackson Generals of the Southern League, Pryor threw a dozen shutout innings for the Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers in Class AAA before “getting the call” last weekend.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound right-hander made his first appearance in “The Bigs” June 2 in Chicago, striking out White Sox slugger Paul Konerko to start his Major League Baseball career. Pryor faced five batters in the outing, striking out two, but giving up his first hit — a solo home run by Dayan Viciedo to tie the game in the eighth inning. The Mariners won the game 10-8 in 12 innings.
The next day Pryor was called on again, this time recording two more Ks and giving up a hit in an inning of work in a 4-2 loss to the White Sox. After a couple of days’ rest, Pryor was given the ball again Wednesday evening against the Los Angeles Angels and this time earned a “hold,” giving up a hit and a walk in 1 2/3 innings of an 8-6 Mariner victory.
In the 10th combined no-hitter in MLB history Friday, Kevin Millwood started the game in Seattle but after six innings felt a groin pull while warming up for the seventh frame.
Millwood left the game and left-hander Charlie Furbush came in but after getting an out, he committed a throwing error that allowed Dodger speedster Dee Gordon to reach and advance to second base.
After Furbush struck out Andre Ethier, Mariners’ manager Eric Wedge brought in Pryor to face the right-handed hitting Juan Rivera and struck him out.
In the bottom of the seventh the Mariners came up with the game’s only run when Ichiro Suzuki laced a two-out single and then stole second base before scoring on a Kyle Seager hit, making Pryor the pitcher of record.
Pryor climbed the hill to start the eighth inning, but after walking both Bobby Abreu and Jerry Hairston Jr., he was relived by Lucas Luetge, who got James Loney out on a sacrifice bunt before exiting himself as Brandon League came on to get the next two batters out to preserve the no-no. Tom Wilhelmsen came on in the ninth to earn the save.
With a 2.08 earned run average and a 1.38 WHIP, Pryor is off to a good start with the club that took him in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Orignally from Donelson, Pryor played two years at Cleveland State, passing on a chance to go pro when the Texas Rangers chose him in the 42nd round of the 2008, and one year at Tennessee Tech.
After playing his first pro season for teams in Everett, Wash., and Clinton, Iowa, Pryor split his 2011 season between Class A High Desert, Calif., and Jackson, going 3-1 with 10 saves and 61 strike outs in just under 50 innings of work.
As for his future, ESPN’s fantasy baseball “spin” on him says, “Pryor throws in the high 90s and hits 100 regularly. His home run allowed (to Viciedo) came on a hanging slider. Pryor will pitch late relief for now but could move into the closer role at some point, considering his stuff and his closer-of-the-future status. If Brandon League continues to struggle, Pryor could take the closer role, and if League recovers, that will allow the Mariners to trade him, which will open the closer role for Pryor, most likely. Either way, Pryor is the future of the bullpen.”
On the same night Pryor was celebrating, Fraser was having mixed emotions as his new club claimed a 9-7 victory over the Trenton (N.J.) Thunder, but personally he gave up four earned runs, including a home run, plus walked a batter and hit another while getting just two outs in his first AA outing. Facing seven batters, 13 of his 20 pitches were in the strike zone.
After a tremendous season last year for the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound right hander saw some spring training action with the major league Mets before starting this season in Port St. Lucie, Fla. In 19 relief appearances for the “High A” team, Fraser posted a 3-2 record with a pair of saves and a 2.08 ERA. He had 18 strikeouts and just seven walks in 30 1/3 innings of work.
Over in the Tar Heel state, Casteel has played in 23 games for Asheville and has five doubles, a triple and a home run in his 23 hits. Hitting .267 with a .330 on base percentage, the former Bear and Cougar backstop has scored 15 runs, driven in 10 runs and swiped a trio of bases.
Massey leads the team with a .325 batting average in 50 games, with eight doubles, a pair of triples and seven “dingers.” The former Owl has accounted for 41 runs, knocked in 33 and is 11-of-14 in stolen base attempts.
While the number of former Lee players in the professional ranks reached double digits last summer, adding another half dozen to the total goes to show how strong the local program is.
Reaching the NAIA World Series for the sixth straight year, including three consecutive Top 4 finishes, the Flames went 56-11-1 this past season and were near the NAIA national rankings all season.
Barber paced the 56-11-1 Flames with a .403 batting average. He banged out 100 hits, including 19 doubles, six triples and nine home runs. The talented hitter also collected 69 RBIs and was named the SSAC Player of the Year and was one of three Lee players named NAIA First Team All-Americans.
“We are extremely excited Blake is getting this opportunity," said coach Mark Brew. "We thought he might get taken in the draft, but at this point and time it’s all the same and Blake is getting his shot.”
“He is one of the hardest workers I have ever coached and his leadership and on-field play were a huge part of our success this season,” the Flames’ coach continued. “He will most likely be moved to the outfield, but I don’t anticipate any problems with the position change as Blake is a very athletic player. We wish him the best as he begins his professional career with the Marlins organization.”
Lee teammates Vance Spilker (Arizona) and Jorge Saez (Toronto) have already inked pro contacts and have reported to the Diamondback and Blue Jay training camps to await their first assignments. Kris Hall is in Phoenix and will undergo a physical before likely signing with the Oakland A's.
Meanwhile, Pat Merkling and Andy Hillis have reportedly joined Cape Cod League teams (summer league) but both are expected to sign with the Marlins and Cardinals. Gabby Roa (Wabash Valley College) and a Flame recruit for the 2013 season, was drafted and has signed a contract with the Texas Rangers.